Two weeks after her son, Patrick, was shot dead in an ambush in Iraq, Nadia McCaffrey joins us to discuss Patrick’s last days in Iraq, his disillusionment with the occupation and requesting the media photograph his returning casket. [includes rush transcript]
Patrick McCaffrey photo gallery
Two weeks ago today Army National Guard Special Patrick McCaffrey was shot dead in an ambush in Iraq. He was 34 years old and the father of two. His son is 9 years old. His daughter is 2 years old.
McCafferey had joined the National Guard on the day after the Sept. 11 attacks with hopes of helping the country recover–he never expected to serve in combat.
But in March his National Guard unit was deployed to Iraq. On June 22 he was shot dead alongside National Guard Lt. Andre Tyson of Riverside, California.
His death received national attention last week when his mother Nadia McCaffrey invited the press to Sacramento International Airport to record images of his flag-draped coffin returning home. Since his body was flown in on a commercial flight, the Pentagon’s ban on photos of coffins did not apply.
- Nadia McCaffrey, her son Patrick died in Iraq two weeks ago today.
AMY GOODMAN: Welcome to Democracy Now!.
NADIA MCCAFFREY: Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: And our deepest sympathies to you on the loss of your son.
NADIA MCCAFFREY: Thank you. Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: You have just buried your son. Can you talk about him? Can you talk about Patrick?
NADIA MCCAFFREY: With pleasure. As you say, Patrick was 34 years old. He was a gentleman, and he was someone with a big, big heart. He has helped not hundreds of people as I first thought, but thousands. And the reaction–the emails, the phone calls–has been totally overwhelming. And when I say thousands, I’m talking about Iraq, Europe and the United States. People have listened to Patrick’s life, tried to understand why he died, and what his life was about. Why did he die? I disagree with the really cold media, but I agree for the media to be in Sacramento when my son’s body arrived, yes. The reason — the main reason for that at the time was I needed people to know what is going on today. Not just here, but in Iraq also. Through my eyes, this gesture was for my grandchildren, and for my ex-husband, or my husband and I later in life. My granddaughter is two years old. She will not remember her dad. My grandson is nine, and he will forget. They both remember right now the day he stepped on the plane on his way to Iraq. Everybody remembers that day very clearly. But I wanted this to be his day of coming home. The flag on the coffin, the arrival in Sacramento, was the way he came home. I want my grandchildren to remember that. More than that, I want all of the mothers that are going through the same thing as I am going through today, to pay attention. We cannot ignore anymore what is going on in Iraq and here. And I am not taking a political stand on this. I am speaking as a mother and as a human being. Patrick was a very gentle soul. When I say yes, thousands, I can give you some examples. The stories are flowing now. From Iraq mainly, but also from his high school friends, where we had a ceremony where we buried him, Thursday and Friday. For example, when Patrick died he was wearing the radio for his unit. The radio that he had on his back weighs 75 pounds. Their gear alone weighs 75 pounds. Nobody could carry this radio out there. Patrick was a bodybuilder, so what happened was the soldier would collapse. It was too heavy. The heat is 125 degrees. So, Patrick just said, forget it. I will do it. Don’t worry guys, I’ll do it for you. And he probably wouldn’t be dead.
The heat exhaustion is atrocious. The fatigue that the soldiers are going through right now is not human. I call this un-human. Every time — lately when Patrick would call, he would call every two days because he was worried about us worrying about him. Well, he would say, mom, I’m so tired. I’m so exhausted. We haven’t slept for so long. This would go on and on and on time after time.
He was very disillusioned with his mission in Iraq. What happened was he signed up, like you said, after 9/11. To make a difference. He didn’t need to do this. He had a very good job for a long time. He was making very excellent money. His life was fine, it was perfect. His reaction was to what happened to this country. He felt helpless. He wanted to help out. In his mind and heart, well, the National Guard were here to help out within the country. In case of any type of catastrophe — like a natural catastrophe, or something like 9/11. He didn’t think at all about the possibility of being deployed. When the time came, and people started to talk about the possibility of the Guard being deployed, and then the fact came, when he knew for sure that he was going to go… He just sat with me a few times, and we talked about it. But his final, logical answer to this was, Mom, I signed up. I took my responsibility the day I signed up. And I must stand up to what I did. So he did. And Patrick was a very cheerful, very positive person. Once in Iraq, he was looking forward to trying to make a difference there to people, with the way we helped them, and he was very anxious to become part of this whole Iraqi freedom thing.
Well, that didn’t last very long. Just after his first mission, he called me and his wife. He is usually very cheerful, like, Hi, mom, how are you? You know, how are the children, and so on. This time, no, it wasn’t like that. It was Hi, mom. I said, what’s wrong? Then he said, I don’t understand why we’re here. They hate us. They just hate us. And Patrick was very hurt by that. Very deeply hurt by that. He realized that, you know, there was no — nothing to be done about the fact that they hate Americans, but also Europeans. They just don’t want anybody there. They just want to be in their country on their own terms and so on. Well, when Patrick definitely realized that, he turned to the children, the Iraqi children. He was asking us to send constantly bags — boxes and boxes of goodies. I mean, like cookies, for example, candy, some nutritional things like Gatorade, powdered Gatorade, and also toys. One of the last emails that I got for him, he is asking for a box of deflated soccer balls with a pump in it so he could give that to the kids. He was giving water and some of his food because there is no running water and no electricity. Those people have nothing. He was enjoying doing this. He was clearly full of happiness. This is a picture that I sent you with Patrick sitting on top of a Humvee holding some white flowers. This picture was taken not even an hour before his death. And those flowers were given to him by the children. They — when they saw Patrick and some of the people in his unit, they would recognize the Humvee and they would run to them, waiting for the things that they were going to get. And this just happened when the picture was taken, Patrick is just glowing with joy, with pure joy. And that should speak for itself. There is another one where he is giving an I.V. to a soldier who had collapsed from heat exhaustion. Patrick was also a combat life saver. He took that very, very seriously. He was constantly looking after soldiers. Even at camp, he was well known to walk around camp and — Camp Anaconda is huge. So thousands of people knew him. He was wearing a chain with pictures of his family on the chain, showing it to everybody. And when he would see a soldier sitting down somewhere depressed or even crying, Patrick would sit next to him, hug him, and cheer the guy up. He was well known for doing that.
AMY GOODMAN: Nadia McCaffrey is talking about her son, Patrick McCaffrey, who died in Iraq. He was brought back to California and she and her husband called the press to take pictures of his flag-draped coffin, defying President Bush’s Executive Order that photographs should not be taken of the coffins.